Ivan Nova was sharp in his return from a shoulder injury and the New York Yankees got back-to-back home runs from Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nunez in a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez each had an RBI single for the Yankees, who began the day tied with Baltimore atop the AL East. The Orioles were scheduled to play later in Oakland.
Evan Longoria homered for the third-place Rays, who fell four games behind New York.
One day after Yankees ace CC Sabathia lost his third straight decision, Nova outpitched James Shields and gave New York’s rotation a nice boost.
David Robertson worked a perfect eighth and Rafael Soriano got three outs for his 39th save in 42 attempts.
With two on in the ninth, Soriano fanned pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson for the final out _ assuring the Yankees (82-63) their 20th consecutive winning season.
Nova (12-7) missed a little more than three weeks with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Making his first start since Aug. 21, he was charged with two runs and four hits in six-plus innings. He struck out eight and walked two, improving to 5-1 in eight career starts against Tampa Bay with his second win overall since the All-Star break.
The 25-year-old right-hander was lifted after Jeff Keppinger’s leadoff single on his 85th pitch in the seventh. He pointed to the crowd, tapped his chest and doffed his cap as he walked off the field to a grateful ovation from the crowd of 46,856.
Joba Chamberlain gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Luke Scott before striking out Desmond Jennings to preserve a 4-3 lead. Jennings whiffed three times in the leadoff spot.
Rodriguez added an RBI single in the eighth off Jake McGee after center fielder B.J. Upton misplayed Robinson Cano’s deep liner into a double. Before that, McGee had retired 22 consecutive batters, 13 on strikeouts.
Raul Ibanez drew a leadoff walk in the second and Granderson sent his 39th homer into the lower seats in right field. Prior to that swing, Granderson was 6 for 56 (.107) against Shields.
Nunez, who made a key error at shortstop late in Friday night’s 6-4 loss to the Rays, followed with a long drive to left for his first major league homer since Sept. 21 last season _ also off Shields. That made Nunez 7 for 14 with two home runs against the right-hander.
Coming off a two-hit shutout Sunday against Texas, Shields (14-9) allowed four runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. "Big Game James" has been anything but that at Yankee Stadium, where he is 0-6 in his last seven starts.
The right-hander was 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his previous seven decisions.
Nova’s fine outing marked the latest of what the Yankees hope will be several late-season reinforcements.
Rodriguez came back Sept. 3 from a broken hand and Andy Pettitte is set to pitch Tuesday against Toronto in his return from a broken ankle that’s sidelined him since June 28. First baseman Mark Teixeira is still trying to recover from a calf injury, but he’s still sore and there’s no timetable for him to get back in the batting cage, manager Joe Girardi said Saturday.
Jeter saw 20 pitches in a span of two at-bats. He flied out on Shields’ 11th delivery to him in the third before bouncing an RBI single up the middle on the ninth pitch in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. That scored Ichiro Suzuki, who singled with two outs and stole second.
Jeter was the designated hitter for the third straight day because of a sore left ankle. He won’t play the field until at least Tuesday, Girardi said.
Suzuki, who entered 14 for 46 (.304) against Shields, batted leadoff for the second time with the Yankees. Jeter was dropped to the No. 2 hole.
Longoria’s shot to right-center cut it to 4-1 in the sixth.
NOTES: Longoria (hamstring) was the DH again for Tampa Bay. Keppinger started at 3B. … Shields dropped to 2-9 in 12 career starts at Yankee Stadium. He is 7-14 in 26 career starts against New York. … Tampa Bay activated INF Sean Rodriguez (broken right hand) from the disabled list. He entered as a pinch-runner in the seventh and moments later made a fine defensive play at third base. … Alex Rodriguez singled for his 2,885th hit, passing Zack Wheat for sole possession of 37th place on the career list. … Girardi rested OF-1B Nick Swisher and C Russell Martin. Both have struggled against Shields. Eric Chavez started at first base. … It was the 11th time the Yankees have hit back-to-back homers this season, and first since Aug. 17. … New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh joined the Bleacher Creatures for "roll call," the Yankees said